To Reach the World’s Most Excluded Children, Data is Fundamental

nora-oconnellNora O’Connell

Associate Vice President of Public Policy & Advocacy at Save the Children U.S.

December 12, 2016

As it’s sometimes presented, the concept of foreign assistance data transparency provokes drowsiness, but accurate and timely data can be of grave importance, particularly in humanitarian emergencies and with marginalized groups.

The importance of data was demonstrated during the 2014-2015 West Africa Ebola outbreak, where data provided at the right place and the right time helped save lives.  When doctors first started treating patients, the lack of electronic medical records hindered patient care.

To address the lack of data, Save the Children and Doctors Without Borders adapted an open-source platform to confront the outbreak by providing timely information on everything from the direction the outbreak was moving to which doctors were due for payment.

Recently, as part of the speakers’ panel for the release of a Friends of Publish What You Fund (PWYF) report, I emphasized that, like the example above, data can have real – and sometimes life and death – consequences. I know this through my own work with Save the Children and the communities that we engage around the world. At Save the Children we see the role of data in development as central for two primary goals:

  • To better inform development and humanitarian decision making, and
  • To strengthen accountability, particularly for marginalized groups including girls and refugees

Better and timelier development data has acquired an increased impetus globally as a crucial tool to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and actionable data is foundational for Save the Children’s Every Last Child campaign aimed at the world’s most excluded children, including migrants and refugees, ethnic and religious minorities, and girls. To make the case for these children and to create a strategy to realize this goal, we need disaggregated data.

As the PWYF “How Can Data Revolutionize Development” report states, U.S. foreign assistance broadly has made important gains in aid transparency, but continued progress – from both U.S. foreign assistance agencies and development implementers – is required to make timely, accurate, and user-friendly data central pillars of U.S. government development policy and practice.

As the world’s largest bilateral donor, the U.S.’ commitment to generating and disseminating development data would help set an international benchmark for the global development community. On that count, while the U.S. has made progress, we still have a way to go to become a global leader. To achieve enhanced U.S. data transparency, the report cites three areas of focus:

  • Implement the U.S. commitment to publish humanitarian aid data
  • Invest in gender equality through publication of robust gender data
  • Improve U.S. aid transparency for stronger U.S. global development

The focus on gender disaggregated data is particularly important for Save the Children’s Every Last Child campaign, which includes girls as one of the largest excluded groups of children globally.

As the PWYF report states, “Whether seeking to increase equality, economic growth, peace and security or improve outcomes for children and families, supporting women and girls are considered one of the best investments for a country’s future.” But data relevant to gender equity is often nonexistent. The report continues, “Although gender-specific and disaggregated data are critical tools…the state of this data is woefully underdeveloped and difficult to use.”

The story of data to help identify and target vulnerable groups is mixed. As Brookings Institution Senior Fellow George Ingram stated at the event, “Transparency moved from a little discussed concept to being the norm in what we want to achieve.” But to sustain progress, U.S. development agencies and implementers should continue to make data transparency a priority – particularly in the world’s most fragile nations and among the most vulnerable and excluded groups.